About the MFR

The Metaline Falls Railroad (MFR) is a proto-freelanced model railroad based on the Pend Oreille Valley Railroad located in northern Idaho and north eastern Washington State. For the very latest on the layout, please visit my YouTube channel and follow along with my Instagram account.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Great Reading on the Internet #2

I've spent the last week or so reading through some really great model railroad blogs and wanted to quickly share them with you.

The first of which is Bernie Kempinski's amazing Civil War era model railroad. His modeling is outstanding and his blog is extremely detailed, interesting and entertaining.  Here is a railroad that is about as opposite of what I am modeling as you can get and I found that I was absolutely riveted to his blog. (I was up till 3:00 in the morning reading it on my iPad in bed.)

Next up is a series of really awesome picture heavy articles of various historical New York city railroad spots including 28th street yardHarlem Transfer, Rikers Island, and many many more. The research is exhaustive and the gentleman "Phil" who gathered the information should be commended for his work.  I find it so interesting that I am eyeing a spot in the corner of my basement that would make a perfect location for an N-Scale 28th street yard...

Finally, we have the website for a Model Railroad that is in my mind, the gold standard of the type of small, freelanced railroad modeling that inspires me and that is the Washington Northern by Kevin Kiettke.  His site is so beautiful and so much fun to explore.  I highly recommend everyone take a look at the amazing work that is on display on Kevin's site.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Look At Your Lighting

I mentioned in a recent post that I needed to address the lighting on the layout. I don't have a great great camera and the lighting was just not bright enough in the room to compensate for my lack of skill at taking quality pictures. And so I decided to replace that old light bulb hanging from the ceiling with something that might throw a bit more light on the layout. I ended up getting a cool looking track lighting fixture.

I chose this fixture because I have very low ceilings in the room and I was worried about clearance.  I also thought it might be helpful to be able to focus light on specific spots on the layout. Upon turning it on I immediately noticed that by focusing the light directly on the layout, the rest of the room appeared pretty dark in comparison. This does a good job of "framing" the layout and really giving it a dramatic appearance when viewing the layout in person.

So it seems to be an overall improvement but how does my camera like it? I set up a nice little side-by-side comparison test.

Immediately right out of the camera the picture is brighter and crisper. The photo is in better focus and the color is more accurate as well. With a little post processing, I think the image looks pretty good. (although the reds are WAAAAY off. I've gotta figure out how to compensate for that.)

One major upside of the track lighting is that I can focus the light on key scenes, however one major downside is that it casts multiple shadows on the ground which is highly unrealistic. That may need to be addressed before it's over with.

I will continue to investigate ways of improving the lighting and improving my photography, but I gotta say, this is a pretty good start!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Joint Bars and Hills

This weekend I started the slightly tedious work of adding a large number of Details West JB-921 joint bars to my track.  I started by measuring and marking off rail every 39 scale feet. (approx. 5 3/8 inches)  I then carefully attached the white metal bars to both the outside and inside of the rail using liquid Medium CA. I also attached my fingers to basically everything in the layout room in the process.

I have not notched the tops of the tracks at the "joint" yet and I am unsure if I will.  It seems like there would be a tradeoff of more noise and a rougher ride for rolling stock for what seems like a very minor detail in my mind.

About halfway through the process I came to realize that I was going to be woefully short on joint bars.  It takes a surprisingly large amount of them to complete all the trackwork on a layout as small as mine.  I've ordered another 12 packages and am currently waiting as patiently as I can for them to arrive so that I can complete the job and glue my fingers together once again.

I noticed while taking pictures that a few of the bars are bent a little bit.  The white metal is very flexible and it is kinda difficult to apply them to the rail perfectly straight.  Even so, the results look very good and I can't wait to paint them up to see the final result.  It is a project that has turned out to be far more expensive than I had initially thought. Given that this is a detail that perhaps 5% of the modelers out there would notice and appreciate, I am not sure it was completely worth it.  That said, if I didn't add these little details, it would have bugged me for years.  So, at the end of the day, I am happy to have put forth this extra little bit of effort.

I also finally figured out what I wanted to do with a large empty area in the front of the layout.  Given that I would have to reach across this area to uncouple cars at the paper recycling company located on the rear tracks, I knew I would be unable to place a delicate structure here.  I had a bit of an epiphany when I realized that lowering the fascia and building a small slope would allow me to work the back of the layout in a more relaxed manner and allow for more arm clearance as I reach across scenery.  It also gives me a good snail's eye view of trains passing by, so that is an extra bonus!

I am excited to finally start into the scenery!  Creating scenery is my favorite aspect of the hobby and it feels really great to finally get that going.  More to come very soon!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Metaline Falls Revealed

Youtube user abekinney brings us this great view of the Metaline Falls revealed for the first time in 27 years as the Pend Oreille river reaches a historic low point behind the Boundry Dam.

It's fun to dig through Youtube for little gems like this while researching information on the area I've chosen to model.

If you are interested in learning more about the falls, here is a nice article about the falls from last year that is full of fantastic historical photos like the following:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What did you do on your Thanksgiving break?

What did you do on your Thanksgiving break? I finished my staging yard.

I have been inspired over the last few days to finally get around to completing the track work for my layout. The last component being this little three-track staging yard above my work bench. The construction when pretty painlessly and was done in a couple of afternoons. While photographing the construction process, I realized that I desperately need to upgrade the lighting in my train room, but that is a project for another day.

(Note: Click the images to view them at a larger size)

The first step was to remove the decorative molding from the wall and install the brackets which would support the base. The overall length of the yard is eight feet so I spaced four brackets appropriately and added a fifth to the layout directly underneath the hole where the trackage would emerge.

I then cut 2" thick foam core to the appropriate shape and rolled on flat black latex paint to the visible sides which included top, bottom, and front edge.

After the paint had dried, I fitted the two sections to the layout ensuring that everything was clean and level.

I then measured and carefully glued  the track and cork roadbed to the foam using Elmer's white glue and held it in place with thumb tacks until the glue had dried.  I decided to lay both the track and the cork at the same time, which I find helpful in ensuring that everything is aligned correctly.

The cork may be an unnessicary step, but in my opinion track laid directly to the foam base tends to look a bit unfinished.  I like the clean, purposeful look that the cork provides.

The final step (after running wires to the track from the main bus line) was to install a couple of Caboose Industries ground throws.  I've always wanted to use these as I like the idea of throwing a switch in a manner that mimics the real thing, but I find their size to be a bit of an eyesore for realistic modeling purposes.  The staging tracks turned out to be a perfect excuse to sneak a couple on the layout!

Here is a pretty bad photo of the far end of the staging tracks.  I had created a number of these bumpers about a year ago in preparation for the yard going in so attaching them now was quick and easy!

And finally we have another terrible photo and a view of the overall view of the yard.  I'm really pleased with the look of the final product.  It looks good above my work bench and makes the rest of the layout look pretty unfinished in comparison.  I guess I've got my work cut out for me!

Learning Points:
  • Have plenty of thumbtacks on hand when laying cork and track.  This allows the process to go quickly and minimizes the amount of stopping and waiting for glue to dry before continuing on with another length of track.
  • a quick coat of paint to cover the foam base goes a long way to making a staging yard look good.  Staging may not be the focus of your model railroad, but who says it needs to look bad?
  • Doing small projects (such as assembling and painting track bumpers) as time permits helps to speed up the time investment of a build and is a great way to maintain momentum on a project.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Maintaining Momentum

BNSF Unit Train headed west out of Spokane Washington July 2011

So, looking back at my previous posts I see that the last major construction push on my layout was back in February of this year when I completed laying and wiring my track-work.  That was ten months ago. Progress has been terribly slow.

I knew going into this project that this would happen.  For me, model railroading is just like any one of the many other hobbies I enjoy.  It's a hobby that maintains my interest for decades, but the passion for getting my hands dirty and actually actively working on the railroad tends to ebb and flow. (Which is yet ANOTHER great reason to design and build smaller and better, not bigger and quicker.) This is my first layout in a decade and I don't want to stumble down the basement stairs a decade from now to find that my layout is in the same unfinished state that it is in currently.

For a new model railroader, getting past these dry spells in our hobby intrest can be difficult if not impossible.  Maintaing momentum can be a tricky thing especially when you feel as if you've expelled so much energy getting to this point and looking down the road, there is a long way yet to go. What can one do to maintain momentum when trying to scrub caked on plaster of paris off of one's arms is just not terribly appealing at the moment?

First know that you are not alone. I take comfort knowing that everyone goes through these periods of disinterest. For me, the endless amount of information available through blog posts, magazine articles, Youtube videos, and forum posts keeps me excited. Following along with other modelers as they shape and mold their own little railroad empires keeps me excited. Knowing that yes, my intrest in getting my hands dirty may wane from time to time, but I've got my own railroad empire waiting patiently for me in my basement. That, more than anything else, keeps me excited.

For further reading, check out this article from the May 2011 issue of the Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine. Thanks goes to dfandrews for pointing me to it!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Installing Switch Machines

I haven't made a ton of progress over the last few months, but I have finally completed building and installing all of my switch machines, and It's been an interesting experience.

After doing some research, I decided to purchase Bullfrog turnouts from Fast Tracks. I liked the simple design of the machines and felt that the assembly process would be a good way to ease myself into the potentially tedious task of building things for the layout.

The Bullfrog turnouts themselves were easy to build thanks largely to a very good tutorial video made available on Youtube by Fast Tracks.

The Control Rod assembly however, was not easy to install. I spent quite a long time installing all eight of the machines and control rods mostly because the instructions provided with the control rods were pretty poor and they do require careful measuring and cutting to ensure that everything fits and works properly. In addition, the little laser cut wood tool provided to help screw the control rods onto the metal connector that attaches to the switch machine stripped every single time. This left me having to slowly and awkwardly twist the rods onto the machine with a pair of pliers while crouched under the layout table.

If I could suggest one thing to the fine folks at Fast Tracks, it would be to please put out a tutorial video showing how to properly install the control rods. I feel this would have likely eliminated any problem I had during the install process. Frankly, looking back on the experience, I'm not sure I installed them correctly, yet I can't think of what I did wrong and why the installation took so much time and effort.

When all is said and done, I still highly recommend the Bullfrog Manual Switch Machine system. The quality is very good, the price is even better, and they seem to perform flawlessly once installed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Layout Progress Video #2

I've added a new update video that focuses on a problem I am having with electrical connectivity in a specific section of my layout.  Since recording this video I've taken a file to the inside of the frogs to shave down the plastic a bit in that section, I've also bent the switch points to help them make better contact with the rail.  My next steps will be to get the frogs powered.

Any additional thoughts about this issue you might offer will be greatly appreciated. Also, I apologies for the shakey camera in the video. I hate looking at that sort of thing myself and I'll be sure to avoid it in the future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Find an excuse for that caboose!

I love the modern era. I love big, heavy engines winding their way through the mountains along rail routes that are a century old or more. I love old, rusty switchers that may have seen better days but can still be seen moving freight in elderly boxcars along tired old lines between small prairie towns. And yes, I also love the graffiti that seems to find its way on nearly every piece of rolling stock these days. What I miss about past era's of railroading though is the caboose.

Let's face it, if we are trying to emulate the modern era, we really can't justify putting a caboose on the end of our trains. It just isn't done anymore. We've just gotta learn to accept this as just one of the few downsides to modeling the modern era and move on...

...or do we? A few months back, a fellow member of Trainlife showed off some video he had taken of a daily freight train near Fort Edward NY. This is a beautiful area for watching trains and actually has quite a few unique features that really grab me and had I known about this place sooner, I'd most likely have set my railroad here instead of in Washington.

If you study the area closely in Google Maps, you'll find a small yard located just outside of Fort Edward, leading from it is a long, winding branch line which follows the river north to Glen Falls. There are several interesting industries located here who are served along stub sidings and there is no passing siding anywhere along the way to allow the locomotive to run around the cars and push them to their appropriate spots. This then requires that the cars be shoved the 5.5 miles from the yard to their destinations. This looks like a job for a caboose!

I am not entirely familiar with the details of how this works, but essentially, for safety reasons, railroads have rules that say that if a train needs to be shoved for more than a mile, a "shove car" must be used as a platform for the trainman to stand and observe the maneuver from.

For my purposes, I'll be using a caboose to assist while shoving cars back down the main line from Ione to Newport. This is actually really helpful for me because my passing siding on my layout isn't actually long enough to allow an engine to run around an entire train. The caboose also offers a lot of operational interest in that it adds an additional element to consider while switching cars and building trains.

So there you go! The perfect excuse to add a caboose to almost any modern layout!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Layout Progress Video #1

Here is the first of what I hope to be many layout progress videos.  I hope you like it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

MFTR's New Motive Power

The MFTR is proud to announce the purchase of new motive power for our little railroad.  Former Burlington Northern GP15-1 #1391 (soon to be patched to reflect new ownership) can now be seen making daily runs between the towns of Newport and Ione.  This beautiful engine is just one of the many positive signs we've seen in recent months that things are continuing to look up for the MFTR and the economy of the Pend Oreille Valley as a whole!

I originally didn't intend to purchase another loco in BN green, I wanted my little EMD MP15 to be the main motive power for the railroad with the idea being that the MFTR purchased it's locomotive from the BNSF at the time of the big BN and ATSF merger.  However, I also wanted a locomotive with sound capabilities and and beacon for added visual intrest.  After much research, I found that adding sound and lighting effects to the switcher would be darn near impossible.  There just isn't enough room under the hood to make it happen.  So, I instead purchased a DCC decoder specifically designed for Atlas's MP15 and played with that for a little bit until I decided that it was time to go looking for something new.

After scouring the web, I ran across the GP15-1 you see above.  Not only does it look absolutely beautiful and is full of fantastic detail, but it also came with a Tsunami sound decoder, flashing beacon, and a Mars light installed!  After running it a bit, I've gotta tell ya, sound and lighting truly brings a whole new dimension to the layout!

Before pressing the "buy now" button however, I decided to do a bit of research.  I knew basically nothing about this particular engine and I wanted to be sure that having a GP15-1 still working in the modern era still made sense.  Moreover, there were three different road numbers available to choose from and I wanted the one that seemed to fit best with my railroad.

I found that rebuilt GP15-1's are quite common on shortline railroads.  The Class 1's will often turn them over to leasing companies and they remain a popular choice for shortlines looking for a light-duty locomotive.  In real life, my little BN #1391 started as a Frisco unit before being acquired by BN.  After the BNSF merger, the locomotive was patched and re-lettered #1491. After a few years of service, BNSF turned the engine over to GMTX leasing company. From there the trail goes cold, but It's nice to know that the engine is still out there doing hard work for some small shortline.

Obviously the history of this unit has changed in the imaginary world I've created for my layout: The MFTR acquired #1391 shortly after the BNSF merger. Company management, being very fond of the BN Green scheme, decided to keep it as the primary color sceme of the MFTR.  There are plans however, to patch the engine with the MFTR's official logo. (Just as soon as the committee decides what it should look like.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Beating Up on Track

One of the many benefits of a small model railroad is that you can more easily (and inexpensively) create a very highly detailed scene.  For example, the less track there is to lay, the more time you can spend making that track look great.

For my railroad, I decided to go with Walthers/Shinohara turnouts and Micro-Engineering Code 83 flextrack.  Both products are of a very high quality and both look great.  I carefully laid the track ensuring that everything was level and transitions between sections of rail were smooth.  This is particularly important for switching layouts as train speed is slow and cars are parked almost anywhere.  Having to deal with constant de-railing or a runaway car spotted on a small hill can be a major pain.

To enhance the look of the track and make it look old and worn, I used an Xacto knife to beat up the occasional tie and split tie ends here and there. For the yard and industrial sidings, I removed many of the ties and spaced the remaining ties further apart to help give it the impression of lighter rail and differentiate it from the mainline.

Next up, I'll be super-detailing the track by adding scale rail joints every 39 feet to better simulate the real thing.  It's been a lot of work so far, but it should be really great when complete!

Learning Points:
  • When soldering rail joiners or wire to track, DON'T hold the iron against the tracks too long.  You will melt ties and distort the metal track. (learned that the hard way)
  • Hold your breath while soldering.  That smoke that rises up into your face is hot and gross and will cause real damage to your lungs.
  • Using an official NMRA gauge and a car equipped with fine-scale wheel sets help ensure that your trackwork is clean and free of trouble spots which could cause derailments.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Great Reading on the Internet

The following are links to sites with great content for those interested in small layouts.

First up is Lance Mindheiem's blog, and the blog for his company focused on the design and building of shelf layouts.  You may be familiar with Lance's contributions to Both Model Railroader magazine and the Model Railroad Hobbiest Magazine. Lance is a master modeler and designer and it shows in his extremely interesting and entertaining blog posts. These two sites will give you hours of reading enjoyment.

Next we have the legendary Carl Arendt's famous site dedicated to micro layouts. I can not tell you how many times I've read through this site completely.  The number of amazing railroads and ideas on display is staggering.  There are tons of pictures and illustrations to get your creative juices flowing.  Carl is passed on now, but he leaves a legacy that is probably most responsible for getting me back into the hobby.  Start with the Scrapbook section here.

Additionally,  there is the Micro Model Railroad Cartel.  This is a group of four micro modelers who are picking up where Carl left off.  These modelers are blogging their design and construction process as they work to build their own small model railroads.  Great information indeed.

Finally, there is the Bronx Terminal.  This blog is dedicated to the design and construction of a very unique model railroad based on an even more unique prototype. There hasn't been many updates in recent months on this layout, but the quality of design and construction here is top notch.  Best way to enjoy this site is to pour yourself a drink, get comfy in your favorite chair, and start at the beginning of the construction.

Know of any other great sites for someone interested in small layouts?  Reply in the comments section and let me know!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Givens and Druthers

There is a popular term amongst model railroaders known as "Givens and Druthers". This refers to a list of "Givens" (hard and fast requirements for a model railroad which act as constraints for the modeler to work within)  and "Druthers" (design guidelines that help to set direction for the modeler)

So, this may come a bit late, but so as not to be left out of the fun...

  • The modeled portion of the layout will be 2'X10' with design considerations for an adequate staging area off layout.
  • The layout must be built in sections with construction techniques that allow the layout to be moved to another home with little difficulty.
  • The layout must be designed with operations in mind. Layout height, wiring, coupler, turnout, and locomotive control should all be designed for both ease of use and enjoyment

  • Operations should be simple, yet elegant.  The emphasis will be on fewer industries and longer sidings as opposed to a lot of industries, short sidings and overly complicated track work.
  • Operational design should allow for a typical ops session lasting about an hour.
  • The design must include a large industrial complex as a showcase for intricate design and kit bashing and to serve as a focal point for operations on the layout.
  • The design must also incude a scenic river scene to showcase a faithful interpretation of the box canyon dam and bridge.
  • The overall theme of the model railroad is one of a small shortline struggling to earn it's keep with few customers and difficult economic conditions.  All artistic design considerations, (from choosing which season to model, to detailing the level of distress on mainline track) should be made with the layout's theme in mind.
That should about do it.  I've found that by distilling all of my wants and needs down to a few small bullet points, I end up with a plan that feels very focused and purposeful.  I feel that focus and purpose is key to the success of any model railroad, but when you are limited by space and money, (as I am)  this list of "Givens and Druthers" becomes all the more important.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Track Plan #3

The track is laid down now, so this is the final track plan.  My goal was to create an operationally interesting design without filling up the space with a mess of unrealistic trackwork. I am pretty happy with the results.
A typical operation session would unfold as follows:
The BNSF arrives from Newport (staging) with cars destined for industries on the layout.  
The MFTR local switcher collects the cars, sorts them at the yard and readies them for distribution.
Loaded Cement hoppers are replaced with empties at the Cement Factory.
Empty pulpwood cars are spotted at the sawmill.
The switcher then performs a run around maneuver to set up the boxcars and tank cars for delivery on the facing-point siding at the Paper Recycling Facility.
Cars are spotted at the appropriate doors at the Recycling Facility.  Some cars may need to be moved temporarily to allow others to be pulled or spotted.
Cars destined for Newport (staging) are then collected and readied for their destination at Newport.
BNSF collects the outbound cars and returns to Newport (staging).
Industries typically receive the following cars per operating session:
Cement Factory: 4-6 2-Bay Covered Hoppers
Paper Recycling Facility: 1-3 50' Boxcars, 0-1 Tank car
Sawmill: 1-2 Pulpwood cars

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It's Working!

Having just completed wiring the layout, I decided to switch a few cars around just to test that everything is working properly.  The track still needs a bit of TLC to iron out a few rough spots and then a good cleaning, but I am pretty happy with it so far!

Taking inspiration from Mike Confalone's trackwork on the Woodsville Terminal, I decided to lay the track in a manner that simulates rough, under-maintained track. It's been a bit of a balancing act trying to make it look "messed up" without actually messing it up!